envylabs-blog

Rails Envy

If you go to RailsEnvy.com right now you’ll notice that it’s been completely removed, without a trace. Rails Envy taught me a great deal over the past year. It was a wild ride which only recently came to a close and it deserves one last article to share what it was, and how it got to where it is now.

At the beginning of 2006 I started up Orlando’s Ruby Group, and towards the end of 2006 we had a few Hackfests. During one of these hackfests I managed to pair up with Jason Seifer, who was at the same level as I was with regards to Ruby and programming in general. He told me how he was only programming in his spare time, but would love to do it full time. I was running a little consultancy named Patched Software, and just reached the point where I could use some help so I hired Jason for something around $25/hour. That sounds low, but at the time I was charging my clients $35/hour. I was new to Ruby and the consulting business in general so I took what work I could get.

Patched Software

Jason and I worked out of my home office most of the time and we grew to be a pretty good team. We loved talking about podcasting, especially Radio Lab, and This American Life.

In February of 2007 we decided to create a small blog together called Rails Envy with the cheesy slogan “It’s not the size of the app that matters, it’s how you code it”. The first thing that popularized the blog was an Acts_As_Ferret tutorial that I wrote up on February 19th, 2007. As you can see in this image the article somehow received a lot of diggs, and gained a good deal of traction.

Rails Envy

What’s interesting is that even back then I can remember doing self promotion. It’s not enough to put articles/software out there, you have to promote your work! Here’s an email I found that I wrote to Jamis Buck (from 37signals) about the article, who at the time had one of the best Rails blogs out there:

Jamis,

Firstly I want to say that I love theRailsWay.com site. You guys have a talent for explaining code lessons in very common terms, and I’m happy to say that you’ve inspired me and my friend Jason Seifer to start up our own blog in a similar light.

Although I don’t think we’ll be reviewing other people’s code, we’re going to dedicate ourselves to creating educational nuggets to help other programmers.

We have listed therailsway.com as one of our favorite blogs on the website. Any sort of publicity you can help with, even a small partner link would be appreciated.

Our first big post went out today, which is a detailed Acts_As_Ferret tutorial for doing powerful full text searching inside your rails apps. You can see it here:

http://www.railsenvy.com/2007/2/19/acts-as-ferret-tutorial

Gregg Pollack

Jamis rejected my request hehe.. but there were others that didn’t. In March I followed up the Ferret tutorial with a two part Rails Caching tutorial which also somehow went a little viral. At the time there wasn’t documentation or Rails Guides that explained things in a way that made sense, so I decided to create my own. In the following months I posted a “Why Ruby on Rails” video presentation which also got a lot of traffic, and Jason posted about Compiling RMagick on OSX.

This led up to one ORUG meeting (Orlando Ruby Users Group) in April 2006, when Jason and I started to wonder what it would be like if we took the format of the Apple commercials and instead of Mac vs Pc, it was Rails vs Everyone else. I wrote up most of the scripts, Jason helped with the comedy relief, and we paid one of Jason’s friends (who had a film degree) to film and edit them. On May 14th, we released the first video on our blog, and it went viral (probably because DHH posted it to the official Rails blog).

To this date this video has been viewed almost 400,000 times on YouTube. Yeah, pretty fricken crazy for just two dorks making geek jokes. Anyways, the plan was to release one video a day up until RailsConf. We released the second video, then the third video, and then I got an idea. I knew it was a long shot, but what if we could get the videos played at RailsConf itself, and maybe release the 4th one at the conference itself. Again, I shot of another one of those self promotion emails… This time to Chad Fowler, who I had never talked to, but I had seen at RailsConf 2006.

Hey Chad,

(skipping the intro here)

I’m writing you to see if you might be interested in playing the videos at RailsConf. We could bring a DVD with all 4 commercials on them, and premiere the final 4th video exclusively there at RailsConf (as a treat to those attending).

No worries if you’re not interested, just thought I’d throw the idea out there. Not even sure you’d be the one to contact.

See you in a few days.

- Gregg

Chad replied and asked us to bring a DVD with the videos! RailsConf was pretty awesome, and it was quite thrilling to be recognized by people at the event (but not in the way you probably think). Being of the computer geek species means I’m just as socially awkward as everyone else. I’ve never been the kind of person to go up to random people at conferences I don’t know and start conversations. Having people recognize me from the videos was the best ice breaker ever, and instantly allowed me to meet people and start those conversations.

Following RailsConf 2007 I wrote a blog post about Rake which again garnered some publicity, published a BarCamp video, and a Testing video. Yup, I coded Rails for about 2 1/2 years before I started testing, guilty as charged!

In the second half of 2007 Jason and I produced another couple of Rails vs videos, the first of which we premiered at the Rails Edge conference where we got to hang out with some of our Ruby Heroes. I vividly remember Jason and I wandering into the speaker dinner for the event (by mistake), and being invited to join. We found ourselves sitting at a dinner table with Mike Clark, Dave Thomas, Chad Fowler, and David Heinemeier Hansson. If Jason and I have ever had a “Fanboy” moment in our lives, I think that was it. We were in awe.

It was somewhere in this timeframe that I decided that Jason and I should become business partners. We made such a good team it only made sense, so we dropped Patched Software and Rails Envy turned from a blog into a Company with a fresh new look.

Rails Envy

Along with the new company, Jason and I decided to try creating our own podcast, the Rails Envy Podcast, which first episode started on October 2, 2007. I honestly can’t find the audio file for Episode 1. If you have it lying around on some hard drive please let me know, I’d love to have it.

What did I do once the podcast started? I did more self-promotion! hehe.. Here’s a blog article Peter Cooper did on the podcast. He didn’t write that on his own mind you, he wrote it because we emailed him about it! (see a pattern here?) We almost always had sponsors for the podcast to help pay for our time, and again, sponsors didn’t come to us, it was just a matter of taking the time to email out the right people (people who had something to advertise to Ruby / Rails developers). Jason and I started out doing the podcast huddled around a crappy USB microphone and using Audacity to edit. It wasn’t until much later that we invested in two microphones, bought mboxes and learned Pro Tools. Just like anything else, the more you do it, the better you get.

Towards the end of 2007 Jason and I were offered a chance to work with Dan Benjamin (who lives on the outskirts of Orlando) in a company called “Helium Reports”, which basically created review websites for wealthy people. The project didn’t seem that exciting and we didn’t like the idea of becoming employees, but we liked the idea of working with Dan and being on the ground floor of a tech team in Orlando for a San Francisco startup. Other people on the team included Thomas Meeks and Tyler Hunt, which you’ll now see on the Envy Labs Team page.

Helium Reports

I ended up leaving the company in early 2008, Jason moved on a few months after me, and eventually Thomas and Tyler were laid off. If anything good came out of Helium Reports it was the relationship I built with Thomas and Tyler, who are good friends now.

In 2008 I decided to try to get out and speak at more conferences. I really started having fun spreading the word of Ruby and Rails and figuring out easy way to teach complex topics, so I submitted talks to lots of conferences. It’s a great deal easier to get a speaking spot at conferences then one might expect. It just takes initiative to submit proposals to the CFPs.

As I began to attend conferences was amazed at how much effort all the speakers put into doing talks that were very rarely recorded. There was no way to get a glimpse of what went on if you didn’t attend. This lead to the idea of creating conference videos, the first of which was RailsConf 2008 in 36 minutes, followed by Oscon 2008 in 37 minutes, RubyHoeDown 2008, Lone Star Ruby Conference 2008, RubyConf 2008, RailsConf 2009, RubyConf 2009, and finally OSCON 2009. Damn, that’s a great deal of conference videos.

The Rails Envy Podcast continued strong all through this. In mid 2008 we put up EnvyCasts, our own paid educational video website. Around that time we teamed up with Adam Keys to create a new video series this time asking what might happen if the MVC pattern were roommates.

Mid-2008 was really the beginning of the end of RailsEnvy.com, even though we were still doing the podcast and going to a few conferences together. Jason ended up having to move down to Ft. Lauderdale, and the distance made it difficult to even keep on the same page doing the podcast, let alone work on the same projects together.

In early 2009 I decided to attempt to grow the business and hire more people, which I was still running under Rails Envy. Jason encouraged me to create another business, so along with Thomas Meeks, Tyler Hunt, and Nathaniel Bibler, we created Envy Labs. Jason and I made a great team, and I do hope that in the future we’ll be able to collaborate again.

So that brings us back to the blank RailsEnvy.com domain. The Rails Envy corporation recently closed it’s books and it wasn’t clear what to do to RailsEnvy.com, so we decided to just shut it down. Perhaps some day we will resurrect a shrine to what it once was, or at least put up the videos there, but until then this article will have to do. I know it’s a little sad, but here’s some DJ Ango to cheer you up (always does the trick).

- Gregg Pollack

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